This Spring and Summer terms of 2020 brought a very different learning landscape. One in which teachers used a great deal of resourcefulness, flexibility and resilience to continue to deliver the best learning outcomes for their children. Read, in her own words, how Year 2 teacher, Helen Pearson, used Wild Challenge Award to enrich her remote teaching and learning...
Helen Pearson, Class Teacher, Beech Class, Year 2 at Woodcote Primary School
"Like so many teachers in Spring 2020 as I waved the last pupil goodbye on Friday 20th March I scratched my head at the new challenge of online learning. I felt passionately that the Year 2 children, who had been such enthusiastic and collaborative learners in the classroom, should continue not only with their education but also develop their appetite for the world and learning, and maintain their wonderful class community where their shared learning was a supportive and integral part of their wellbeing, growth and development. How could we keep children connected to ‘school’ and each other while they were remote and isolated from their usual interactions?
As a school we converted immediately to online working, with every colleague across the school embracing the technology and opportunities available through Microsoft Teams. We embarked on planned classroom projects, tweaking them to online and remote learning with children’s submissions of work promptly marked and commented on to ensure that, although we were remote, we continued to be interested and invested in each piece of work. It struck me that sending something in via a computer could feel empty and of little value to a seven year old (or indeed to parents working as their children’s educators, actioning and supporting our plans) unless they received valuable and personal feedback – echoing both the academic support that would be given in the classroom and the social interaction that accompanies it.
As Easter passed by and school closure continued, I found myself looking for ways to enrich this remote learning, for a shared project and experience that could maximise hands-on learning, be practical, take children into the fresh air and be of enjoyment to the whole family. This led me to find the Wild Challenge Award - these fabulous resources became the catalyst for our Home Learning projects and offered a real endorsement of hard work through the progressive Bronze to Gold awards possible. Not only would the award activities support our curriculum aims but they would take us outside, making the most of this unique opportunity to enjoy and explore our environment while the world seemed to pause. We are lucky - as a village school atop the Chiltern Hills, we are surrounded by woodland, picturesque views and sweeping landscape, while only a stone’s throw from the River Thames. We began by encouraging families to register for the award and then set activities as a focus for our learning through the coming weeks.
Our first project was to turn our attention to birdlife. The children undertook a survey of the birds in their gardens. They recorded their observations using tallies which they then converted to block graphs, utilising their data handling skills they wrote statements and questions based on their data. This exercise gave them real experience of data and statistics supporting their Year 2 Maths curriculum and offering far more purpose and excitement than a paper exercise in the classroom. Practical activities of bird feeder and bath building proved highly successful and suddenly some of the more reluctant classroom learners were recording their learning alongside photos and pictures of their creations – taking pride in the sighting of hungry visitors to their feeders.
The bird project also saw the start of our shared photo albums and the sense of excitement of shared experiences while separated by lockdown demonstrated its value immediately. In Teams video calls the children were keen to talk about their activities. Children and their families submitted amazing photographs and stunning film of the birds they had encountered: a moorhen chick taking its first swim, blackbird hatchlings being fed in their nest, red kites swooping and feeding. I joined them (with my own family) recording a red kite feeding at our bird table and the development of a nest of robins from eggs to fledging as they enjoyed their nest in our gas barbecue.
We moved on from birds, focusing over the weeks on different groups of activities from minibeasts (using Shake a Tree and Bug Safari), through woodland (identifying trees: Trees, Leaves and Seeds), plants (Fabulous Fungi and Wild Flower Foray) and even space (night sky through Nature Wow and Wild Sleepout). Each topic area allowed us a platform to extend our learning in the Year 2 curriculum areas: Science, Maths English, Art and DT.
With each project children were able to accompany their outdoor experiences with curriculum objectives. While working on birds we linked our observations and work with Science by labelling body parts, identifying species, life cycles, with Art by drawing birds and creating related pictures, with Maths by working on data-handling. Grouping Spring activities from the challenge we turned our first-hand observations into artwork and poetry, identified plants and seasonal changes for our Science. Helping creatures by building bird baths, feeders, hedgehog cafes and bug hotels, we considered animal food chains, habitats and survival and developed our practical DT work. Work on minibeasts, trees and plants fulfilled objectives in our Science curriculum and gave us a catalyst for instruction writing. Gazing into the night sky and sleeping out in the dark provided an incentive to contemplate space exploration and the solar system. Spurred on by real experiences in nature, the children observed closely, wrote, produced artwork, composed music, made comparisons between creatures, habitats and plants. As the weeks passed children happily revisited their projects reporting on bugs that had taken residence in their bug hotels, birds visiting their feeders, plants that were growing and flowering, hedgehogs enjoying garden cafes. Children enjoyed the fruits of their labour and developed their experiences of nature and learning.
Throughout lockdown the additional value of their work was recognised as the children achieved first their Bronze, then Silver and, finally in our last week of the summer term, Gold awards from RSPB. Not only were school marking and commenting on their work but they were receiving acknowledgement and value from the RSPB and they grew in pride in their achievements. All children were able to access the projects, nobody was limited by perceived ability.
Using the Wild Challenge as the foundation for our Home Learning was invaluable for us all, as a teacher it supported my planning, helping to focus topics and give us a route map through lockdown. It was truly inspiring and uplifting to use the Wild Challenge resources and learn and explore alongside the class (albeit while isolated and distanced), sharing experiences brought us together and has given real joy. Extending so many activities outside and giving our lockdown exercise or outdoor time real purpose supported the wellbeing not only of the children but of many family units who enjoyed the activities together. It was fabulous to achieve so many awards and Gold as a class, serving as another way to maintain and acknowledge our community while we were distanced."
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